UMMS ANNOUNCES NEW PROGRAM IN BIOINFORMATICS AND INTEGRATIVE BIOLOGY
Bioinformatics expert Zhiping Weng, PhD, named founding director

November 13, 2007

WORCESTER, Mass.—The University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) has established the Program in Bioinformatics and Integrative Biology to address one of the most dynamic and central issues in biomedical research—the ever-increasing quantity of genetic information available to scientists.  With databases expanding significantly to include DNA sequences, protein structures and complex signaling networks, the demand for technology and personnel that can process and analyze the information is essential to the success of the comprehensive biomedical research endeavor at UMMS. The program, which is also crucial for the enhancement of existing faculty research and for the recruitment of additional faculty and graduate students in many disciplines, will grow under the expertise and administrative guidance of inaugural Director Zhiping Weng, PhD.

“The program in bioinformatics will serve to accelerate our pace of discovery across the range of research endeavors on our campus. This new discipline provides quantitative tools and approaches for the very large data sets that have become the hallmark of science in the genomic age,” said Terence R. Flotte, MD, dean of the School of Medicine and executive deputy chancellor.

Under the direction of Dr. Weng, who will hold an appointment as professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology, the program will bring together resources and faculty expertise in mathematics, science and engineering to explore and understand biological data through the application and development of computational tools. Initiatives will include new approaches for expanding the use of biological data, including tools and techniques to store, organize, analyze and visualize such data.

As director, Weng will guide efforts to make the information gathered from the sequencing of human DNA practical and applicable for clinical research. In addition to recruiting faculty, she will also work with the leadership of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences to establish the graduate training program. 

“We are delighted to have Dr. Weng join us and lead the development of bioinformatics at the Medical School.  Her energy, enthusiasm and ambition to build a program integral to the advancement of biological and medical science convinced everyone that she is absolutely the right person for this critical position,” said C. Robert Matthews, PhD, the Arthur F. and Helen P. Koskinas Professor and chair of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology.

Weng joins UMMS from Boston University, where she was associate professor of biomedical engineering and bioinformatics and associate professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at BU School of Medicine. She received her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Science and Technology of China in 1992, and after receiving her PhD from BU in 1997, she joined the faculty as an instructor. She was promoted to assistant professor in 1999 and associate professor in 2003.

While at BU, Weng was an integral member of that institution’s Bioinformatics Program. Her personal research is focused on molecular interactions, specifically the interaction between regulatory proteins and their DNA/RNA target sites, protein-protein interaction, protein-peptide interaction and the interaction between protein-structure building blocks. Using a combination of computational and experimental approaches, her team aims to identify the impact of these interactions on a variety of tissues and organs within the body. Weng is currently principal investigator of a project grant of the National Human Genome Research Institute’s Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) Project, which is a coordinated and multidisciplinary effort to determine the function and location of human regulatory regions.

The author of more than 70 publications, Weng’s research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). She is the recipient of a number of professional honors and awards, including Professional Opportunities for Women (POWRE) and CAREER awards from the NSF. She has served as a reviewer for many scientific journals, among them the Journal of Theoretic Biology, Journal of Molecular Biology, Bioinformatics, Proteins, and Genome Research

“I am thrilled that Dr. Weng has agreed to join us to direct a new program in bioinformatics and integrative biology,” said Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Michael R. Green, MD, PhD, director of the Program in Gene Function and Expression and the Lambi and Sarah Adams Chair in Genetic Research.  “This is a critical step toward our goal of developing excellence in the most important areas of contemporary biomedical research.”

About the University of Massachusetts Medical School
The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research.  The Medical School attracts more than $176 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. The work of UMMS researcher Craig Mello, PhD, an investigator of the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), and his colleague Andrew Fire, PhD, then of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, toward the discovery of RNA interference was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, hailed as the “Breakthrough of the Year” in 2002 by Science magazine and has spawned a new and promising field of research, the global impact of which may prove astounding. UMMS is the academic partner of UMass Memorial Health Care, the largest health care provider in Central Massachusetts. For more information, visit 
www.umassmed.edu.

Contact: Alison Duffy, 508-856-2000